BERLIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has announced a new round of infrastructure projects to be covered by American Rescue Plan Act funds, including work to help preserve the state’s oldest cobblestone schoolhouse.
In all, $250 million in federal relief funding from the ARPA was allocated to the DNR. Last month, the department announced more than 100 new projects that will use approximately $108 million of that funding.
The Sessions Schoolhouse is one of two historical projects on the docket. The schoolhouse sits off W. Riverside Drive in the Ionia State Recreation Area.
The schoolhouse was built in 1847 and is 480 square feet. It earned its name from Alonzo Sessions, a farmer who once owned the land where the schoolhouse sits. The schoolhouse, which at one time housed up to 24 students, was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1985.
Trevor McGinn, the park supervisor for the Ionia State Recreation Area, says the schoolhouse is in incredible shape given its age. The cobblestone, which is reportedly comprised of rocks found along Sessions’ property, is still strong. The walls were restored in 1918 but otherwise have only been repaired from acts of vandalism. Other parts of the building have needed more help.
“They had to replace the roof on it because it was compromised. That was a few years back now, probably 10, 12 years ago,” McGinn told News 8.
The next steps for the building include getting a new door and windows.
“The scope of the project we’re looking at is to get some period-accurate windows. We can’t just put Pella windows or anything like that in here. They need to match the timeframe, the original style of windows for this schoolhouse and the same with the door,” McGinn said. “That’s the scope. We’re trying to just shore up the entirety of the outside and then we’re going to start doing some work on the interior.”
Although the ARPA funds have been set aside, the money isn’t available quite yet. McGinn expects the work to start in 2024.
“We’re already at the end of 2022 now and getting a bid out might take some time. All those things have not been worked out fully yet,” McGinn said. “It’s hard in this day and age to find people who can make period accurate pieces.”
After the door and windows are replaced, the next step is to replace the floor. Along with the roof, the old floor was made of oak and needed to be redone. The schoolhouse has a concrete floor for now, but McGinn’s team plans to install an oak board floor in the coming years, then get period-appropriate touches to recreate the school aspect of the schoolhouse.
“They were actually just benches that would be in almost a ‘U’ shape, surrounding three sides, and then the teacher would be in the front,” he said.
While the Sessions Schoolhouse project is an important historical piece for Ionia County, it’s one of the smaller planned DNR projects. Parks across the state will see several upgrades, mainly to update roads, parking lots, utilities and recreational structures.
More than $30 million is being set aside to develop a new state park in Flint, and more than $37 million will be invested in expanding off-road trails across the state.
In a statement, DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson said the projects will be an “all-hands-on-deck” situation.
“This is a massive team effort,” Olson said. “We already had a pretty solid understanding of the many maintenance, repair and development projects we knew we wanted to accomplish. Some of that work was ongoing through normal operations, (but) the influx of ARPA funding meant we had to work together quickly to prioritize which projects were most critical or nearest to implementation.”